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Modern/Contemporary
Stanford Memorial Auditorium
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Richard Alston Dance Company at Stanford's Memorial Auditorium

by Emily Hite
January 27, 2007
Stanford Memorial Auditorium
Stanford Lively Arts
537 Lomita Mall, MC 2250
Stanford, CA 94305
(650)725-ARTS
Program:
Red Run (1998)
Volumina (2005)
The Devil in the Detail (2006)
Richard Alston, artistic director and choreographer.
Dancers: Anneli Binder, Amie Brown, Peter Furness, Jonathan Goddard, Martin Lawrence, Sonja Peedo, Silvestre Sanchez Strattner, Rose Sudworth, Pierre Tappon, and Yolande Yorcke-Edgell.
Stanford Lively Arts presented London's Richard Alston Dance Company in its West Coast premiere this weekend. The contemporary ensemble's ten strong, athletic and technically excellent dancers moved with high endurance and unrelenting clarity throughout the evening's three works, all choreographed by Alston.

Red Run, a piece commissioned for the Holland Dance Festival, began with a running rhythm in Heiner Goebbels' music. The opening male solo got the audience's heart rate up in preparation for an evening of onstage aerobic activity. Marked by punchy exactitude and full of leaps and turns, the dancer's solo was a good indication that there would be no shortage of big movement in this performance and no energy left unspent by the time of the curtain's close.

After the introductory segment, a female solo followed in a slower pace but with no letdown of output. Once the cast of dancers even took the stage to lie down together, but still the action was not restful. The dancers seemed to radiate heat from their taught muscles even in horizontal stillness, and no matter what the musical tempo.

Music changed from electric guitar to horns and urgent drum sounds, and the dance mirrored the music's steady beat and punctuated its accents. The choreographic choice to fit dancing to music is most unlike the work of Merce Cunningham, with whom Alston studied in New York. The iconoclastic Cunningham famously uses chance procedures rather than calculated symmetry or musical imitation to construct his dances. When Cunningham worked with innovative composer John Cage, the music and dance scores would often be composed independently and come together only for performance. Alston notes in an interview that what Cunningham did was give artists a choice— extended the range of possibilities of interacting with different media—rather than create a new inviolable standard.

Although Alston chose in his works this evening the pleasure of dancing to music over Cunningham's method that challenges his audience to make what they will from non-related sound and visual components, his movement clearly follows from Cunningham's. Upright posture, balletic turnout alternating with parallel leg positions, forward spine curvature and full extension of the limbs fill Alston's work.

Red Run's series of dancey segments finished too soon. The piece would have benefited from more time to develop ideas and opportunities to incorporate more group dancing. Alston's choreography looks rich with many people dancing it, especially when using multiple "fronts" for dancers to face, a key example of which was seen in the second work and is described below.

Volumina, the next piece after an intermission, showcased lovely male duet work which involved interesting level changes and counterpoint movement rather than chronic synchronization or physical attachment between partners. One dancer could be jumping and traveling upstage while the other remained stationary in the same vertical (front to back) plane. The men could share space without looking like two soloists, and could find harmony without evoking a pair of inseparable lovers or identical twins.

György Ligeti's organ score for Volumina did not dictate precisely to the dancing. Without a pronounced meter, the music provided an outline for timing and indicated shifting moods. One could watch the dancers and count silently with them, as they kept an even group rhythm and looked well rehearsed in doing so. Otherworldly sounds changed dramatically between segments, but evolved slowly within them.

In what was probably a technical mishap, the music became uncomfortably loud and high-pitched as the choreography built to its most interesting point. The group took the stage in a flash with all different facings and looked like mutating organisms in different phases of development. An older gentleman sitting behind me saw my pad and pencil and said after the piece, "The music was terrible! Put that in your review." I believe it was not so much the music itself as the acoustics of the cavernous theater and the lack of mechanical coordination that made the sound unpleasant to sit through.

Fortunately the last piece, The Devil in the Detail, had the blessing of live piano accompaniment for the work's collection of Scott Joplin's familiar ragtime tunes. Costumes of khaki pants and pastel-striped shirts for the men and light-toned cotton dresses for the women created a springtime jaunty atmosphere. The dancers performed high-spirited modern dance movement infused with the tap step, "over-the-top" (suspending one foot several inches off the floor and then jumping over it), and some mimed piano playing. Again, it was a very un-Cunningham use of Cunningham-looking baseline movement. The nostalgic American music and smiling, flirtatious dancers may have reminded San Francisco Bay Area patrons of Michael Smuin's Fly Me to the Moon, an upbeat ballet piece to popular Frank Sinatra music. In The Devil in the Detail, one could certainly find personalities unleashed in bodies and faces as prompted by Joplin's songs such as "The Entertainer."
Devil in the Detail

Devil in the Detail

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Alston


Such Longing

Such Longing

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Alston


Brisk Singing

Brisk Singing

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Alston


Gypsy Mixture

Gypsy Mixture

Photo © & courtesy of Richard Alston

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